SAN JOSE – While Todd McLellan will undoubtedly feel some strong emotions when he ambles to the bench on Thursday night at SAP Center for the first time as a visiting head coach, the Sharks aren’t too focused on the Oilers bench boss’ return to the Bay Area. They already faced McLellan on Dec. 9 in Edmonton, a 4-3 Oilers overtime win.
Instead, San Jose will try to build off of what it has done lately, including three straight wins and four games in a row in which the club has been pleased with its effort and performance. The Sharks (21-18-2, 44 points) are still seeking their first back-to-back home wins of the season, something they can accomplish on Thursday after they thumped the Maple Leafs last Saturday, 7-0.
“The first time we played against [Edmonton], a staff we were familiar with, there’s a bit of an excitement there. Now for us it’s probably just another game,” Tommy Wingels said. “It will be exciting for him to come back here, but for us, we’ve had that game against him already and gotten it out.”
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer actually got together with McLellan on Wednesday night for coffee to discuss this summer’s World Cup Young Stars team. McLellan is the head coach, and added DeBoer to his staff after the pair served in the same roles at last year's World Championships for Team Canada. It’s evident they’ve become friends and formed a strong mutual respect.
“He’s excited to be back,” DeBoer said. “For us, this is an important game, so that’s the stuff that’s just noise on the outside for our group.”
Logan Couture said: “I’m sure obviously when he saw the schedule this is probably one that he circled. For us, we’re past that point. We’re  games into the season. We’re battling for a playoff spot. There’s bigger things at stake.”
* * *
The Sharks have gotten some valuable scoring of late from their depth forwards, including Chris Tierney, who whipped a shorthanded goal past the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck on Tuesday in what turned out to be the game-winner in a 4-1 Sharks victory.
For Tierney, it was just his second goal in a manned net, and first since Dec. 8 at Calgary (he also has two empty net goals). He has points in all three of his games (1g, 2a) since a brief two-game stint with the Barracuda.
“A little more confident with the puck, and playing a little more relaxed when I’m out there,” Tierney said of his recent surge. “Just playing instead of thinking too much. I think that’s when I play my best, and it’s been going well so far.”
DeBoer has been blunt when assessing the Sharks' up-and-down young players, and was no different on Thursday morning when asked what Tierney has to do to maintain his effectiveness.
“That’s on him. He’s a pro now. He knows,” DeBoer said. “I think we’ve shown him what we think is an acceptable level of play where he can help us. When he dips below that – he made a trip to the minors. That’s on him to bring that game to the rink every night.”
Tierney said he needs to “just try to play to my strengths, which is puck possession and winning battles down low. Trying to be solid in my own end. If I stick to those three things, I think I’ll be OK.”
* * *
DeBoer was encouraged by Couture’s game against the Jets, when the centerman had one assist and four shots on goal. Still, it’s an ongoing process to get the 26-year-old back to full health.
“I thought that game in Winnipeg was as close to what I’d seen at the beginning of the year,” DeBoer said. “He had four shots on net, he was attacking some holes, he did some things that I haven’t seen yet. So, he’s getting more comfortable.
“This is going to be a process. You’ve still got rods and pins in [Couture's right ankle] and it’s still sore after games. But, he’s definitely a huge part and a piece for us. Even if he’s not 100 percent, he still makes us a much better team.”
Couture, who has one goal and five assists in 11 games, admitted he’s like to “do some more” offensively, but the alternate captain is encouraged that the team is finding ways to score goals, with 16 in the last three games.
“Guys are stepping up and scoring offensively and contributing offensively,” he said. “The fourth line is playing some good minutes for us. [Joe Thornton’s] line is obviously going. When you get contributions from everywhere in the lineup, you’re going to be successful.”